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Government spent close to $10K on Jays tickets for Canada 150 and travel ‘influencers’

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Federal government spent 15K+ on sports tickets
WATCH ABOVE: The federal government is under fire for so-called wining and dining at the taxpayer's expense. Documents reveal that thousands of dollars were spent on tickets to sporting events over the past year, and that's not sitting well with everyone. Mike Le Couteur reports – Dec 18, 2017

It looks like the federal government was listening when somebody sang, “Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd.”

Documents tabled in Parliament last week show the government spent thousands on Toronto Blue Jays tickets in 2017. The biggest chunk was spent taking 90 private sector, technology and government partners from B.C., the United States and Mexico to watch the Jays take on the Seattle Mariners on June 11, 2017. In Seattle.

The event was billed as a part of Canada 150 celebrations.

The documents detail how much the government spent on sporting events since September 2016. Global Affairs Canada came out as the big spender for its Canada Day at Safeco Field event. It billed the gathering as an effort “to support ongoing engagement and broaden public diplomacy” — by hosting key contacts in group suites at the ball game.

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READ MORE: Most Canadians feel $500M for Canada 150 is too much

Now, the spending may be another case where Canadians frustrated with how much the Canada 150 celebrations are costing – roughly $500 million – end up questioning exactly what tangible benefit is being gained from the amount being spent.

“Nobody wants to be a party pooper on our birthday but I think it’s fair to say a lot of the money that was spent was not spent in a way that a lot of Canadians think was good value,” said Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.

“I think taxpayers are right to ask what business does the government have buying sports and concert tickets and things like that for other important people. That’s not their role, they shouldn’t be doing it, especially when we have a large deficit.”

The June 11 game made headlines as Canadians flocked south to watch the Blue Jays take on the Seattle Mariners in a sold-out game that saw the Mariners jack up prices, in many cases doubling them, because it uses a pricing system known as “dynamic pricing.”

It takes into account rivalries between teams, supply and demand, and how many star players are on the teams at play.

Main level seats that regularly cost an average of about C$50 soared to about C$92.

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For the Canada 150 event, the government paid $152.96 for each of the 90 tickets it got in group suites.

While the initial total cost is listed as $13,766, the document notes $6,113 of that was recovered from regional partners who reimbursed the government for the cost.

All in, Global Affairs Canada spent $7,653 on the tickets after reimbursements, as iPolitics first reported Friday afternoon.

Former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird banned the practice of billing taxpayers for sporting tickets in 2013 after reports that the then-Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade spent $10,000 for a Canadian diplomat to host business leaders in a private box to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Winnipeg Jets in 2012.

It is not clear at what point Global Affairs Canada began the practice again – or who authorized it.

Technology, startup firm execs among guests

The guest list does not name specific individuals but rather breaks down who was invited by titles and which organization they work with.

Four senior executives from Amazon — which several Canadian cities including Ottawa and Calgary are currently courting in a bid to host the firm’s new headquarters — as well as the manager of issues and priorities for the B.C. provincial government were on the list, along with the team lead from Boeing.

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At the time, Canada was still privately pressuring Boeing in an escalating game of jibes to drop its trade complaint against Bombardier, which resulted in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying in September that Canada would not buy jets “from a company that is trying to sue us.”

Nine individuals from the Canadian consulate general in Seattle attended along with the economic and political affairs officer from the Consulate of Mexico and two deportation officers and a field office director from the local department of U.S. Immigration and Customs.

The senior program officer from the Gates Foundation and the health and wellness adviser from Prescription Yoga were also there.

A bevvy of private sector executives from venture capital funds and technology incubators attended as well.

Global News reached out to the government asking exactly how it choose who to invite to the game and which invitees reimbursed the government for their tickets but has not yet received a response.

WATCH BELOW: Blue Jays fans flock to Seattle despite high prices

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Blue Jays fans flock to Seattle despite high prices

Global Affairs Canada provided a rationale for the event in its response to the order paper question submitted by the Conservatives that requested the spending breakdown on sporting tickets, saying its missions abroad use cultural events to “stimulate discussion and interact with stakeholders” on key government priorities.

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“Culture remains a valuable instrument for use in public diplomacy, trade promotion, advocacy and access,” Global Affairs Canada said.

“The Canada Day event provided a remarkable opportunity for Global Affairs Canada to reinforce the central role that Canadian business and government play in regional economic clusters, including aerospace, IT, energy and tourism with key contacts, while fostering partnerships with the United States. The event was also an important opportunity to support ongoing engagement with the US and highlight the economic important of Canada-US business ties.”

READ MORE: B.C.’s Blue Jays fans spend big to flock south for Seattle Mariners matchup

Global Affairs Canada was not the only government department that spent money on sports tickets over the past year, although it was by far the biggest spender.

The Canada Lands Company, a Crown corporation that manages the sale of government properties, spent $1,245 for 23 employees to attend a Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre on July 27 for employee appreciation day.

Destination Canada, the government agency responsible for promoting Canada as a tourist destination, also spent around $1,000 on three promotion initiatives.

In December 2016, it spent $224 for two tickets to a Vancouver Canucks hockey game for an international travel influencer “who is active on social media with a large following and can influence consumer’s travel choices,” as well as a videographer who went with them to record footage to be shared across social media to inspire readers, viewers, followers and potential travellers to plan a visit to Canada.

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On July 2, Destination Canada also spent $136 for a travel writer from an unnamed international tourism magazine to attend and write about a Blue Jays game.

On July 24, the agency also spent $353 for six influencers to attend another Blue Jays game.

Canada Post Corporation also reported that it bought four tickets to the Roger’s Cup tennis tournament in Montreal in August but refused to say how much it spent on the tickets, arguing that the information is “commercially sensitive.”

It made the same argument to avoid stating how much it spent on eight tickets to the Shaw Charity Classic golf tournament at Canyon Meadows Golf Course in Calgary.

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